Middle East business leaders becoming wary of Donald Trump

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DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES >> Donald Trump's call to keep Muslims from traveling to the United States is causing dismay among business leaders in the Middle East, a region where the billionaire presidential candidate has done business for years, viewed as well-suited for his brand of over-the-top luxury.

Emirati business magnate Khalaf al-Habtoor only months ago proclaimed his support for the Republican hopeful, but that's all changed in the wake of Trump's increasingly incendiary comments about Islam.

"If he comes to my office, I will not let him in. I reject him," al-Habtoor told The Associated Press. "Maybe we can meet somewhere where I can debate with him in a very civilized way, not in the way he approaches people."

Meanwhile, a Mideast company, the Dubai-based Landmark Group, said it would pull all Trump home decor products at its 180 Lifestyle stores in the region as it "values and respects the sentiments of its customers."

Trump has for years looked to do business in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf and the emirate of Dubai. Trump has lent his name to two high-profile Dubai golf course projects and an ongoing real estate development, and sought for years to expand his hotel chain into the region.

Wariness in the Arab world

But some of his rhetoric about Islam on the campaign trail — including his call to monitor mosques and his proposal this week to temporarily bar Muslims from traveling to the U.S. — has led to increased wariness in the Arab world. Trump's campaign did not respond to questions about his reputation and business dealings in the Middle East.

In a column published Aug. 9 in the state-owned The National newspaper of Abu Dhabi, al-Habtoor praised Trump for believing "in bringing back his country's superpower status."

But late last month, al-Habtoor wrote a follow-up column on Trump that began with: "I was wrong and I do not mind admitting it."

"When strength is partnered with ignorance and deceit, it produces a toxic mix threatening the United States and our world," he wrote, ending his column by endorsing Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

In a way, Trump's oversized personality, on display for years in syndication on Arab satellite networks, matches the aspirations of the construction boom in the oil-rich Gulf.

Star-studded galas in 2008 heralded the launch of the planned Trump International Hotel and Tower Dubai. The 62-story skyscraper of glass and stainless steel would have towered over the man-made Palm Jumeirah island jutting into the Persian Gulf.

A construction company al-Habtoor was involved in, Habtoor Leighton Group, was part of a joint venture awarded a 2.9 billion dirham ($790 million) construction contract for the project in 2008.

Dubai's property bubble burst before the project could really get off the ground


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